More on adding value in Higher Education

A core argument nicely made by Richard DeMillo in the NYT

Q. In your book, you talk about some of the recent online educational innovations, like iTunes U and M.I.T.’s OpenCourseWare. What are those going to mean to universities?

A.What Chuck Vest did at M.I.T. with OpenCourseWare, putting every course online, free, showed that the value of a degree from M.I.T. was not contained in the lectures and the exams and homework. It’s contained in the experience of passing through the network of M.I.T. scholars. So why hang on to what should be shared widely? OpenCourseWare was an important signpost that hammered home the point that the content of a university course was being rapidly commoditized by technology. If you can easily access a lecture in quantum mechanics from the best lecturer on quantum mechanics, how many other quantum mechanics lectures do you need?

Q. Do you hear a lot from professors worried that having so many brilliant lectures available online will eventually do away with their jobs?

A. Absolutely. If you think your value is in 13 weeks of lectures, then exams, it’s true that that’s probably not going to be as valuable in the future. To some extent, that’s already happening with iTunes U, where you can hear a lecture on English literature or the global financial meltdown from someone who can explain it very well. What you get there is pretty much all you need to get students involved in the discussion. But that’s not the discussion. The discussion is what takes place afterward, maybe not in the classroom, but in the learning community. That’s where professors can add value.

Post by Jonathan Rees

Clinical academic and skin watcher at the University of Edinburgh

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